Send to

Choose Destination
See comment in PubMed Commons below
QJM. 2008 Jun;101(6):435-43. doi: 10.1093/qjmed/hcn036. Epub 2008 Apr 28.

Emergency department evaluation of sudden, severe headache.

Author information

  • 1Department of Clinical Neurosciences, Western General Hospital, Crewe Road South, Edinburgh, EH4 2XU, Scotland.



To assess the clinical management of adults presenting with sudden, severe headache.


We retrospectively reviewed the medical records of consecutive adults presenting with sudden, severe headache to the emergency department (ED) or medical admissions unit at one teaching hospital.


Of 12 025 consecutive attendances over 3 months, 91 adults (0.8%, 95% CI 0.6-0.9%) presented with sudden severe headache. Documentation of time to peak headache intensity and headache duration was complete in only 33% of cases. Brain computed tomography was performed in each of the 29 patients (33%) in whom it appeared indicated for the investigation of headaches peaking within 5 min and lasting more than 1 h, as well as 11 patients (13%) who did not meet these criteria. Lumbar puncture was attempted in every patient for whom it appeared indicated (although it was unsuccessful and abandoned on three of 24 patients), as well as one patient in whom it appeared not to be indicated. When subarachnoid haemorrhage was suspected, 81% of patients had spectrophotometry. Of the patients, 52 (60%) were given a specific diagnosis, 17 (33%) of whom were given a diagnosis despite an apparently insufficient history. A further 12 (14%) could have been diagnosed if the International Headache Society classification had been applied to the documented history. Neurological advice was sought for only 20 patients (23%).


Patients with sudden, severe headache might benefit if EDs used simple protocols, emphasizing the crucial elements of history and examination, appropriate investigation and targeted consultation with neurologists.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
Free full text
PubMed Commons home

PubMed Commons

How to join PubMed Commons

    Supplemental Content

    Full text links

    Icon for HighWire
    Loading ...
    Write to the Help Desk